Family Attachment Narrative Therapy

Family attachment narrative therapy was developed by Joanne C. May out of a need to address challenging situations present in the lives of behaviorally disturbed children and their guardians, whether those guardians were biological parents, foster parents, or adoptive parents. The treatment was based on nearly 40 years of experiential evidence gathered from child guidance clinicians, treatment facilities, and children and families in adoptive or foster situations. Due to conditions of neglect or abuse in their biological homes, these children may experience extreme difficulty in forming an emotional attachment to their new, more positive and nurturing environments.

Goals of Family Attachment Narrative Therapy

The goal of family attachment narrative therapy is to provide the children with an opportunity to heal their past wounds and regain the ability to create positive relationships. This treatment grew out of thousands of narratives derived from parents and specialists and encompassed not only the adoptive and foster families, but the biological families as well.

Because childhood trauma that goes untreated can result in delayed or diminished mental, emotional, and behavioral capacity, the emphasis of family attachment narrative therapy is to heal the wounds incurred in early childhood. In this model, the parents provide narratives in comforting and subtle ways that demonstrate a nurturing experience in an aim to rebuild the child’s emotional foundation. The child ultimately grows to accept the care and comfort available in the new loving and nurturing environment.

Children's Narratives in Therapy

Although children need the support in the form of an allegiance with a trusted adult in order to put childhood traumas behind them and progress, oftentimes the traumas consume the child and prevent them from regaining the ability to trust, therefore preventing the healing process. Children who have a history of maltreatment seem unable to give a productive narrative. Their stories often involve telling of despicable violence and death with no strategy for solutions. Conversely, children who have strong attachments portray just the opposite narratives with fairytale conditions in which the child and caregiver face an obstacle and work together to devise a plausible solution. The lack of problem solving skills for the maltreated child results in an inability to progress toward healing and predicts similar outcomes for subsequent challenges. Children rely on narratives from parental figures to form expectations and identities. In addition, narratives are used by parents to convey a comprehension of the child’s point of view, the child’s belief system, and the child's emotional state.

Outcome of Family Attachment Narrative Therapy

By using narratives between a child and a parent, conceptual thinking is manifested. A child learns how to use terms such as love, truth, freedom, and good to share his or her own emotions with his or her parent. This empowers the child to be able to see someone else’s perspective beyond just their own. This process of communicating with self and with others is paramount to the formation of gauging behavior and viewpoints and to facilitate change.

Interpersonal Neurobiology and Family Attachment Narrative Therapy

Interpersonal neurobiology provides evidence that a person’s brain actually responds physically to the experience of psychotherapy. The development of social bonds, adaptive behaviors and cognitive skills are tools for psychological healing. But with technological advances, MRI’s and other imaging devices can offer direct and indisputable evidence that specific therapies positively impact our neurological mechanisms. Narrative approaches are especially effective at increasing neural patterning. Techniques used in family attachment narrative therapy and other narrative disciplines involve in-depth social interactions, relationship building and rapid creative shifting. The methods used in narrative therapies force clients to engage multiple areas of their brain to effectively participate in improvisation, storytelling and dramatic play.

Family attachment narrative therapy provides a unique platform for increasing interpersonal neurobiological stimulation. The accepting and open environment encourages honesty and truthfulness, while taking on the role of listener and storyteller allows a client’s energy to flow in multiple directions simultaneously. This dynamic creates a seismic shift in the neurological process and causes a stagnant brain to fire in new and exciting ways. As the members of the group continue to develop their stories, the narratives become three dimensional, and the synapses grow and blossom. The result of this integration is a physical, physiological, and psychological transformation.

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Last updated: 04-15-2016

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